NILES - Linda Spaur probably can speak for many area residents as they make their list and check it twice for Christmas shopping this year.
"I'm trying very hard not to put anything on credit cards, so spending probably will be lower this year," the Newton Falls resident said as she and her children walked past the towering Christmas tree last week in the Eastwood Mall main concourse.
Spauer said she's looking for all the deals she can find, especially after her husband lost his job of 23 years at cabinet-maker KraftMaid before last Christmas. He found another job but at about half the pay, she said.
Tribune Chronicle / Larry Ringler
Storm Spaur, 13, left, talks with mother, Linda Spaur of Newton Falls, in front of the Christmas display in the Eastwood Mall main concourse. Taking a peek out of his stroller is Isaiah Spaur, 1.
"We're helping seven people off his income," she said.
One marketing tool Spauer said she doesn't like is the decision by some retailers to start their Black Friday sales spree late on Thanksgiving day.
"I'm not shopping on Thanksgiving day," she said. "Why not let retail workers rest? People should spend the day with family."
Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving that used to be the season's busiest shopping day, earned its name because it kicked off the holiday shopping season that retailers count on to make them profitable - go into the black - for the year.
Knowing they face intense competition for gift dollars this year, retailers are pushing their marketing to new limits, with deep discounts, generous payment schedules, even layaway programs that were popular in the 1960s but that faded with the rise of credit card use.
Retailers remember all too well the deep freezes of Christmas past, especially in the recession troughs of 2008 and 2009. Sales in November and December 2008 tumbled 4.4 percent from the prior year, then went flat in 2009 before rebounding in 2010 to a 5.2 percent gain.
Holiday retail sales for the state are projected to rise 3.31 percent this year over last, pushing the season to its best showing since 2007, according to a study by the University of Cincinnati's Economic Center for the Ohio Council of Retail Merchants.
Nationally, sales are predicted to increase 2.66 percent, thanks to slowly rising employment, slightly higher inflation in the last six months and gains in monthly taxable sales during 2011.
The study projects taxable Ohio retail sales of $939.9 million in November and December. It also predicts modest increases in both prices and total units sold over 2010.
The study counts all retail sales except for motor vehicles and parts, gasoline stations and non-store retailers, including catalog and Internet sales.
Tax receipts from the Christmas shopping season are critical for counties that rely on the money for big parts of their general budget.
Trumbull County's 1 percent share of the 6.5 percent state sales tax brought in $2.31 million last December, 11 percent of the year's $20.96 million take, based on the actual month of sales.
Counties don't get the money until three months after sales are made due to the time needed for the state to collect the money, then disburse it to the counties.
The two-month shopping season collection last year in Trumbull County was $4.09 million, or nearly 20 percent of the year's total.
Last year's Trumbull County December sales tax receipts were the best since $2.34 million in 2006. Collection bottomed at $2.10 million in 2009.
December receipts totaled $2.27 million in 2007 and $2.21 million in 2008.
The outlook isn't all gingerbread and candy canes. Concerns persist about the future of the economy, keeping consumer confidence in check, the Economic Center study shows. Many households say they're living paycheck-to-paycheck, according to the study.
Even so, shopppers find it hard to say no at Christmas. A new Gallup poll found that respondents plan to spend an average of $764 each on Christmas gifts, which would translate into about 3 percent to 4 percent more in holiday retail sales.